Fractured by internal conflict and foreign intervention for centuries, Afghanistan made several tentative steps toward modernization in the mid-20th century. In the 1950s and 1960s, some of the biggest strides were made toward a more liberal and westernized lifestyle, while trying to maintain a respect for more conservative factions. Though officially a neutral nation, Afghanistan was courted and influenced by the U.S. And the Soviet Union during the Cold War, accepting Soviet machinery and weapons, and U.S. financial aid. This time was a brief, relatively peaceful era, when modern buildings were constructed in Kabul alongside older traditional mud structures, when burqas became optional for a time, and the country appeared to be on a path toward a more open, prosperous society. Progress was halted in the 1970s, as a series of bloody coups, invasions, and civil wars began, continuing to this day, reversing almost all of the steps toward modernization taken in the 50s and 60s. Keep in mind, when looking at these images, that the average life expectancy of Afghans born in 1960 was 31, so the vast majority of those pictured have likely passed on since
In 1967, Dr. William Podlich took a two-year leave of absence from teaching at Arizona State University and began a stint with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to teach at the Higher Teachers College in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he served as the “Expert on Principles of Education.” His wife Margaret and two daughters, Peg and Jan, came with him. Then teenagers, the Podlich sisters attended high school at the American International School of Kabul, which catered to the children of American and other foreigners living and working in the country.
Outside of higher education, Dr. Podlich was a prolific amateur photographer and he documented his family’s experience and daily life in Kabul, rendering frame after frame of a serene, idyllic Afghanistan. Only about a decade before the 1979 Soviet invasion, Dr. Podlich and his family experienced a thriving, modernizing country. These images, taken from 1967-68, show a stark contrast to the war torn scenes associated with Afghanistan today.
More of Dr. Podlich’s images are available on a website maintained by Peg’s husband Clayton Esterson.
For the Part 1 pictorial essay of Afghanistan in 1950s & 1960s, do check
Please click the pics for the slideshow !